Tuesday, August 30, 2016

GWB - League Semi-Finals


Greg Maddux took the mound for the '98 Braves to face Barry Bonds and the '00 Giants.  Neither the Braves or Giants have had a team qualify for the Tournament of Champions, comprised of the league winners from the 8 tournaments with teams ranging from 1961 to 2000. 

The 1969 Braves made it all the way to the National League Championship of the Lyndon B. Johnson bracket.  Along the way, Hammerin' Hank and his boys knocked out the young '70 Expos as well as two World Champions: '69 Miracle Mets and the '67 St. Louis Cardinals.  In the NLCS, Phil Niekro allowed only 2 runs over 8 innings.  But Gary Nolan bested him, hurling 8 innings himself, and giving up only 1 run to Atlanta before Wayne Granger closed out the 9th.  Both teams opened up the offense in Game 2, and were tied 7-7 after 5 innings.  The score held until the 9th inning when Johnny Bench and Bernie Carbo both doubled home runs.  In the bottom of the inning, the Braves continued fighting, scoring a run themselves and managed to get both the tying and winning runs on base.  Gil Garrido bounced back to Wayne Granger to end the game and the Braves' hopes of advancing into the championship.

San Francisco hasn't fared quite as well.  For the 5th time, the Giants have made the National League Semi-finals, but have failed to advance to an NLCS in their four prior tries.  The 1962 team was bounced by eventual John F. Kennedy champion, '63 Cardinals.  The 1971 G-Men were eliminated by the 1975 Big Red Machine, who were on their way to claiming the Richard Nixon Championship.  The 1989 squad was sent home by a much smaller version of Barry Bonds and the 1990 Pirates in the George H.W. Bush Invitational.  And finally, the 1993 team (this time with Bonds), were shown the door by Biggio, Bagwell and the 1994 Houston Astros.  At least a different franchise has ended their run in these instances.  The '98 Braves would attempt to be the 5th.

Barry Bonds got the Giant fans on their feet in the first inning when he blasted a Maddux offering for a solo home run and give San Francisco a lead before the Braves took their first swing of the bat.  The lone run held up until the bottom of the 6th, when Walt Weiss and Gerald Williams doubled back to back to tie the game.  The Ice Man scored when Chipper Jones followed with an RBI single in a stadium full of Tomahawk Chops.  Maddux struggled in the 8th, giving up base hits to Bonds and Burks, but was able to retire the side and strand both runners.  Kerry Ligtenberg saved the game in the 9th, and Atlanta took the opener 2-1.

The series moved to San Francisco, where the 2nd Braves ace, Tom Glavine, would face Russell Ortiz.  The Braves 1-2 Hall of Fame starting rotation presents as much of a challenge for teams in APBA play as it did two decades ago in real life.  Glavine, like Maddux, surrendered a solo home run to Barry Bonds, but little else.  Gerald Williams again factored prominently in the Braves offense.  In the 5th inning, Williams walked and later scored on a Jeff Kent error to put Atlanta ahead 3-1.  In the 7th, Williams singled Walt Weiss from 1st to 3rd, then stole second base.  Back to back sac flies by Chipper Jones and Andres Galarraga gave the Braves a comfortable 5-1 lead.  Ellis Burks took John Rocker yard with a 2 run shot in the 8th, but the Giants could get no closer, as Ligtenberg again closed out the 9th without allowing a base runner.

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The '99 Reds shocked everyone by sweeping over the '98 Astros in the Quarterfinals, and felt pretty good about things when they chased Randy Johnson after only 1 1/3 innings, scoring 7 runs on 7 hits against the Big Unit.  The DBacks didn't lay down, and made a game out of it, but ultimately lost 9-5. 

Moving back to Riverfront Stadium, the sight of many great Reds victories in this project, the locals hoped to draw on some of the good fortune of the past.  It was not to be.  A 2 run home run by Jay Bell and 3 doubles from Matt Williams proved to be too much as the Snakes evened the series with a 7-6 win.

In Game 3, Greg Vaughn hit his 2nd home run of the series, while Mike Cameron and Eddie Taubensee added solo bombs of their own in the 3rd and 4th innings respectively.  Tony Womack collected a 2 RBI single in the 3rd inning, and Greg Colbrunn added a bases loaded walk later in the frame to tie the game 3-3 at that time.  Cincinnati scored another run in the 5th inning when Mike Cameron trotted home on a sac fly by Dmitri Young to give the Reds the lead.  Scott Williamson held Arizona scoreless in the 6th and 7th innings, before handing the ball to Danny Graves for the 2 inning save.  It was not to be.  With Greg Colbrunn on first base in the 8th, Steve Finley's 22-5 gave Arizona its first lead of the game at 6-5.  The Reds, reeling from shock, could not answer the Diamondbacks in the 9th, advancing Arizona to the NL championship in their first (and only) tournament appearance.

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The project has developed some very interesting story lines, as it nears the end of the 8th bracket.  The Orioles have reached the ALCS in 4 of the prior 7 tournaments.  The 1964, 1969, 1971 and 1994 teams all made it to the doorway to enter the final Tournament of Champions.  Only the 1971 team was able to punch their ticket.  Along the way, the #1 seed 1969 Orioles eliminated the 1968 Indians in the Lyndon B. Johnson tournament.  Fortunes reversed, and in the Bill Clinton Invitational, the two franchises faced each other again, but this time with the '95 Indians holding the #1 seed. 

The firepower the mid-90s Indians possessed made them an easy pick.  Unfortunately, it would not be the correct one.  Mike Mussina faced off against Dennis Martinez in one of the most memorable games of the entire project.  For 9 innings, the two aces continued to mow down the other teams batters.  At the end of regulation, neither team had scored, and both starters remained on the hill.  With one away in the 10th inning, Martinez finally gave way to Paul Assenmacher in relief.  But on the other side of the diamond, Moose continued to throw darts and once again held the Indians scoreless.  Things finally broke in the 11th, when Rafael Palmeiro connected on an Assenmacher offering for the game's first and only run.  Big Lee Smith took the ball for a scoreless 11th and collected the save to give the 1994 Orioles a 1-0 lead in the series.  The powerful Indian offense had managed only 4 singles against Mussina in 10 innings of work.  In Game 2, the Indians showed up pounding the O's 13-2.  Orel Hershiser pitched Game 3 for Cleveland, and gave up only 1 run on 5 hits over 7 innings of work. 

If Cleveland had known they would get that kind of pitching performance from its #3 starter, they would have made hotel reservations in advance for the next round.  They would have needed to get refunds.  Jamie Moyer (5 2/3), Mark Eichhorn (2 1/3) and Lee Smith (1) combined for 9 innings of shutout work, again holding the powerful Cleveland team to no extra base hits as the Birds enjoyed their 2nd 1-0 win.  In the 3 games, Cleveland outscored Baltimore 13-4 and was going home.

As the teams prepared for their rematch, I couldn't help but think about this series in the prior tournament and wonder if this second clash would provide as much drama.  Orel Hershiser again pitched well in his appearance, allowing only 1 run over 6 2/3 innings.  But Baltimore plated 4 runs in the 8th and 9th innings against the Indian bullpen, and won the opener 5-2.

In Game 2, Mike Mussina again toed the rubber for the Orioles and would face Charles Nagy.  Inning by inning, Moose again sat down the likes of Thome, Belle and Ramirez.  Kenny Lofton managed 3 hits off of Mussina, but the remaining team could find only 1.  Mussina went the distance, going 9 innings with a beautiful 4 hit shutout.  In 19 innings of work over two appearances against the 95 and 96 Indians, Moose had given up 8 hits, 5 walks, and no runs.

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The Yankee Boy was coming off a sweep of the Blue Jays with his #1 Seed, 1998 New York team.  He would face the 2000 White Sox, who were a much better team than I realized.  Not being a big follower of American league baseball for most of my life, and still reeling from the 1994-1995 players' strike at the turn of the millennium, I had given the '00 White Sox little to no attention in real life.  When I pulled the 50th APBA Anniversary cards from their envelope, I realized just how strong this group was.  But did they have enough to knock off the Boy's favorite team, and a squad he has now competed with in the Chicagoland World Series on two different occasions?

Jose Valentin got the Chisox on the board with a solo home run in the top of the first inning of Game 1 against Andy Pettitte.  Scott Brosius and Joe Girardi went back to back with RBI doubles in the 2nd inning to put the Bombers on top.  Jose Valentin answered again with his 2nd home run in as many at bats, this time with Ray Durham on base, and Chicago jumped back ahead 3-2.  The Yankees were in for a fight.  When Bernie Williams singled in the 6th, lefty Kelly Wunsch was summoned from the bullpen to face Darryl Strawberry.  Straw drove the pitch deep into the Yankee Stadium seats to give New York a 4-3 lead.  El Duque, Mendoza, Lloyd and Rivera combined for 5 scoreless innings in relief and the Yankees took the opener, 4-3.

In one of strangest games of the entire project, the Yankees crushed the White Sox #2 starter, Jim Parque, for 7 runs, all earned, over 1/3 of an inning.  Cal Eldred was called on in emergency work, as Commiskey Park fell silent.  Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee both homered in the 2nd inning to allow the Sox to reclaim 3 of the runs.  Ordonez singled home another in the 3rd.  In the 4th, the Sox hit for the cycle when Konerko, Perry, and Lee, singled, doubled and tripled (in order) for two runs, before Chris Singleton's sac fly brought home a 3rd.  When Ray Durham hit Chicago's 3rd home run of the game to complete the cycle for the inning, the score was tied 8-8 after 4. 

The hits just kept on coming.  Herbert Perry added a 2 run homer in the 5th, Jose Valentin picked up his 3rd of the series, and by the time the dust settled after the 8th inning, Chicago had scored 13 unanswered runs for a 13-8 win.  After scoring 8 runs in the first, the Yankees managed only 4 singles and 0 runs over the last 8 innings.

Like it often does, the Sox big offensive outburst was followed with a disappointing showing in the next game.  Charles Johnson homered in the 2nd, and Ray Durham singled home another in the 6th, but it would be all Chicago could get.  Tino Martinez had a 2 run bomb in the first inning, and the Yanks added 4 runs in the 5th (highlighted by a 3 run Scott Brosius blast), to take the air out of the southsiders.   David Wells pitched 8 strong innings before handing the ball to Mo' to close the door.  In the end, the Yankees proved the '98 team is stacked.  Shane Spencer was 0 for 2 in limited use.  After a great performance against the Rangers in the Quarter-finals, the biggest disappointment was Frank Thomas.  The Big Hurt was a dismal 0 for 10 in the Yankee series with 2 walks and a HBP.  He only managed to get the ball out of the infield one time.

The Yankees move on to the ALCS and will face the Orioles for the 5th time in tournament play.  In the prior 4 meetings, Baltimore has enjoyed a 3-1 record against the Evil Empire.

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